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Breaking Free: 3 Tools to Transform Your Relationship Dynamics

Walking on eggshells in your relationship? Here are 3 tools to change everything.

We all want to feel free to trust and love our other half, but sometimes find it difficult if they’re controlling, scrolling on their phones during “quality time” or making us work hard for the scraps of love and attention we crave.

Sometimes we get to a place in our lives where we wonder how much longer we can be living this way. Most of us have lived enough life to know that yesterday might be starting to look permanent, causing us to wonder, “How do we change our tomorrow?”.

These simple tools, when used correctly, can help improve your relationship and point you on a
path to a greater sense of self:

Transform your habit of thinking:

We all have an inner critic that lives inside of us, made up of fearful thoughts that keep us feeling stuck. These thoughts are not who we are, but have been wired into our subconscious to keep us safe. Who we really are knows we deserve more than what we are getting, but somehow we keep moving back into our old habits. To get the relationship we want, we need to get curious about how our inner critic thinks it’s helping us through presenting the negative, fearful thoughts, and retrain our minds to replace them with faith in ourselves. You are not
your thoughts. You are the one who is aware of your thoughts and has the power to change them to create the life and relationship you know you deserve.

Change where you put your energy:

One of the most terrifying feelings we can experience is the feeling of helplessness. This is especially true in our relationships. To avoid this feeling, our human nature is to try to control external factors outside of our control. We sometimes put a lot of energy into trying to change (or control) our partner, leaving us feeling burnt out and resentful. The fastest way to reclaim our inner peace is by gaining clarity on what we do have control over, and what we do not. Once we realize we only have control over our own actions and choices, the magic begins to happen. Redirecting all of the energy that was once used to try and change our partner, we can focus on building the life we want, and if our partner is willing to come along for the ride, they
will rise to our level.

Train people how to treat you:

We all know the true saying “Actions speak louder than words”, but sometimes this idea gets lost when it comes to our relationships. We may tell our partner that we won’t put up with something anymore or we are going to leave… but then we don’t follow through. We may say, “That’s not okay”, but continue to give them what they want. To get the changes we require, we need to reward our partner with their love language when they show behaviors we want or desire. When unwanted behaviors show up, we limit any reinforcement of that behavior. With the help of a therapist to navigate the intricacies of relationships, we can make a healthy plan to limit our presence and/or attention in a specific way. Over time, if they truly are our person, their behaviors will shift into what we have been asking for but haven’t been following up with our actions until now.

Written by Kellie Hatch – Mental Health Graduate Student

The Power of Avoidance

We spend our lives avoiding uncomfortable things. Avoidance is powerful. Here is what you need to know about it: Avoidance makes everything worse! I learned this the hard way.

I was driving home on a Friday night after shopping. I felt tension in a small area of my neck. There was no pain, just mild tension. This could be the beginning of a something. I might wake up with a painful stiff neck. I have had this before, and it usually goes away in half a day

It got worse. I woke up at 2 AM with really bad pain. I could not sleep all night. At 5 AM I was looking online for a massage therapist who worked on Saturday. Within 100 miles there were only two open on Saturday. One of them was only four miles away. I needed a daily massage for four days before this thing settled down. It was awful.

I knew these principles were true, but now I was living them. The body acts to avoid pain. A little tension in a small area recruited all my back and neck muscles to avoid that tension, to prevent movement. All the muscles on the right side from skull to hips went into action to avoid any movement. Within six hours the pain spread everywhere and increased to the point that I could not rest. It took four days of intense massage to resolve all this.

One night, as I was improving, I had another restless night. I would turn over in bed and feel pain in my neck. I learned that If I moved slightly into the pain, the pain would go away after a few minutes. I did this throughout the night – moved toward the pain, instead of away from it. It worked great.

The other lesson I learned was to trust my massage therapist. It hurt when she pressed on a knotted muscle; it hurt a lot. I kept jumping a few inches off the table. Then I learned to relax, instead of tensing when it hurt. This allowed more effective breaking of the tension. I had to trust my therapist, so I could begin to relax in the face of pain. And then we worked together to unravel the knots.

I hope you can see how these principles are also true in counseling, in psychological therapy.
Defense mechanisms – denial, avoidance, rationalization, excuses, etc. – these can create more pain than the original problem.
Avoidance makes the pain worse; over time it sets up a complex system that governs our lives.
You need to find a therapist you can trust. When you do, relax a bit, take it slow as you face painful memories and situations.
When you feel emotional pain gently move toward it, not away from it. Become curious about it. Watch what happens inside you, how you react. Let your therapist help you with it.

Avoiding your pain ensures that it will never go away. Studies of PTSD have shown that avoidance is the primary factor in keeping the pain in place. People only get better when they face the pain. It is necessary to face the pain with a therapist, or a team of therapists and others. The same principles are true for any persistent emotional or relational disturbance.

All of us have been through our own journeys. We understand the urge to avoid pain, and the necessity of facing it. When it is in your face, then turning away is no longer possible. But you really do not have to wait until it is that bad. Move toward it, in a safe environment. We are here if you need us.

God bless you.

Dave Hall, LMHC

Creating Everyday ‘Insta’ Moments with Nature

The old pond
A frog leaps in.
Sound of the water.
– Basho, (1644-1694)

In therapy, one of the things counselors like to share with clients is the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness is something that everyone, even kids, can learn. It is bringing attention to the experiencing of the moment. The idea is sensual noticing, acknowledging thoughts and accepting feelings. But practicing mindfulness can also be incorporated into daily life, to uplift the moment. For this exercise, we will use the frog haiku poem as mindfulness inspiration.

Basho, a famous Japanese poet, wrote the above haiku in the fifteenth century. It recalls just one single moment of nature. The silence is part of it. The sound of the water is easy to imagine. When you think of it, can you visualize the moment? What do you see, hear, smell?

Here is an exercise in mindfulness that anyone can do. Pay attention to the details and experience of nature like Basho. Think of it like producing mini ‘Insta’ moments for your senses and mind. This can be done anywhere there are elements of nature. When you notice something beautiful or special, breath it
in deeply like you are smelling a beautiful rose.

Here are some ideas:
-Take a nature walk in your neighborhood and focus on the flora and fauna in all the yards, any nature sounds you hear and the state of the sky. Breath it all in.

-Go to a botanical garden and give yourself permission to soak up the beauty of each tree, flower and shrub. Breath it all in.

-Go bird watching. Take in all the splendor of the environment. Enjoy the movement of bird flight. Breath it all in.

-Sit or take a walk on the beach, noticing the sounds of the waves, the colors and shapes of the shells, the rocks, and the composition of the horizon. Watch the sun rise or set. Breath it all in.

-Buy a beautiful bouquet of flowers and take time to study them. Look at their textures and colors and smell each part of them. Breath it all in.

-Listen to the birds in the morning through your windows. Florida is a place with birdsong. Tune in to them like a radio channel. Breath it all in.

-Try kayaking or paddle-boarding and notice all the life under the water. Breath it all in.

-Grow a seed and observe each stage closely. This one is great for kids. Teach them to breath in the moment.

-Stare at the clouds. Notice subtle colors, the sky in in motion. Look for beauty. Breath it all in.

-Houseplants are also a reliable source of connecting with nature. Study the beauty of an orchid, or the smell of a basil plant.

The exciting news is that you can bring mindfulness to anything. You can do your dishes mindfully. You can play with your children mindfully and interact with your partner mindfully. You can bring it into the shower, and to yardwork. Mindfulness is kind of like magic because it transforms the moment. If you transform enough moments, your life will be transformed.

Written by Megan McKeon – Mental Health Graduate Student at University of the Cumberlands

Therapy Goals

We have all experienced moments in which we felt we were at a loss for handling a situation or a feeling. It is during these times we seek outside assistance, be it from friends, loved ones or with a therapist. Because these are difficult and stressful times, problem solving, positive thinking, or solution finding can seem impossible. However, in therapy this is exactly what we strive for in the midst of these chaotic moments.

This first requires an individual’s awareness they have exhausted their mental and emotional resources and acknowledge the need for professional guidance through this process. Finding a therapist with whom you can share this space continues this process through the sharing of these experiences, feelings, and struggles. It is through this exchange of honest and often difficult information the therapeutic alliance is formed. This alliance between therapist and client is the foundation on which therapy goals are created and refined.

Many individuals do not have clear therapeutic goals at the outset of this journey. Taking the time and making space to sort through uncomfortable situations and emotions brings clarity to one’s thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and therefore, their goals. Therapeutic goals can and will change throughout the process but having a goal on which to focus allows us to see solutions, successes, and areas of improvement. Therapy goals could be considered the mile markers on the journey to wellness.

Working with a therapist to achieve these goals requires individuals, couples, and families to join together, taking the information and insight acquired in sessions into their everyday lives. This day-to-day application solidifies new skills, new ways to view or assess problems, and ultimately achieve goals. Once the goals for therapy are achieved, the skills and benefits of these changes can be applied to future issues and concerns resulting in lifelong improvements in one’s well-being.

Written by April Daniel MS, NCC, LMHC – National Certified Counselor (NCC) and a Licensed Mental Health Counselor

 

Protecting Your Peace

Peace is often thought to look like a straw hammock on a sunny beach or a crackling indoor fireplace on a cold day. And as comforting as these moments are, what they represent is something deeper and more crucial for fortifying our mental health. How can we cultivate feelings of peace that carry over into our day-to-day lives?

In our era of 24-hour news cycles and constant smartphone notifications, it may feel like there’s simply no time for real peace. When free time arises in our busy lives, we have an instant abundance of bite-sized video clips, clickbait headlines, and social messaging to drown our attention in. And somewhere in the constant reach for pleasing distraction, we might occasionally wonder why we feel drained, strained, and burnt out.

Now more than ever it is up to us to be deliberate about cultivating peace. It starts with finding what practice works best for us – prayer, mediation, reading, walking, journaling, or other focused, lowkey activities. It should facilitate a shift from preoccupation to centered mindfulness, creating time for presence, reflection, and grounding. With enough consistency, practices like these can open up a new perspective quite different from the hustle mindset that colors modern life. But what happens when the practice ends, and we step back into daily life?

Just as peace is cultivated, it also needs to be protected. As a calm perspective helps us recognize the inner habits and outer noise that shake our focus, we can also find new approaches. This may look like restructuring a room to limit distractions, setting healthy boundaries in relationships, or challenging negative patterns of thinking or action. In doing so, we protect the restorative peace that prepares us to take on more of life’s challenges.

So, in those times when a vacation is still aways off and it feels like our responsibilities are piling up, we can always choose to be deliberate about cultivating and protecting our peace. When we set aside time for lowkey reflection and mindfulness, it can flow outward and refresh other areas of our busy lives.

Written by Louis Nicholas, IMH24151 – Registered Mental Health Intern

Walk + Talk Therapy by the Bay

Walk + talk therapy by the bay is one of my favorite approaches to mental health therapy. As a trauma-informed therapist, I utilize many different therapeutic techniques to best accommodate each client’s needs. I know that sitting on a therapist’s sofa doesn’t feel safe or comfortable for many people. That’s why I offer walk + talk. It’s just like going for a walk with a friend (if your friend was a highly trained mental health professional who knew therapeutic techniques that are clinically proven to improve your mood). ♡

For people who have experienced trauma, the idea of meeting an unknown person in a small office in a new building can feel paralyzing. With walk and talk, we are able to meet in a public park where we are surrounded with other people and beautiful views. While the name implies that we will walk the entire time, there are many seating areas along the route to enjoy the shade and the warm breeze from the bay.

Walk + talk therapy offers an opportunity to reduce stress, relieve body tension, improve circulation, breathe deep and clear the body-mind of intrusive, negative, and ruminative thoughts. These sessions can help you decrease anxiety, regulate mood, enjoy more restful sleep, and more. Additionally, you can receive the feel-good brain chemical benefits of exercise, mindfulness practice and eco-psychology. In session, you can enhance insight, release body trauma, and alter behavior patterns while verbally processing your authentic truth.

In urban planning, there is a concept of integrating waterscapes into cities called “blue spaces.

👫Studies have found that short, frequent walks along waterscapes (blue spaces) are good for your mental health.

👫There is a significant improvement in well-being and mood immediately after a person goes for a walk in a blue space, compared with walking in an urban environment or resting.

👫Waterscapes have healing effects that enhance psychological resilience to promote mental health.

👫Walk + talk therapy by the bay gives clients an opportunity to enjoy some blue spaces while boosting their mental health.

Similarly, when urban architects add nature elements to cities such as trees, plants, and grass, these are called “green spaces.

👫 Green spaces provide fresh, healing air to the body

👫 Some mental health benefits of green spaces include: lowered stress levels, reduced rates of depression & anxiety, reduced cortisol levels, and improved general well-being

👫 Enhance your cognitive functioning, improve your sleep, and increase your levels of physical activity.

👫Walk + talk therapy by the bay gives you an opportunity to spend some time outside connecting to nature while working on your mental health.

If you’re joining me for walk + talk therapy, here are a couple things to keep in mind:

👫We don’t have to walk the whole time!

👫There is plenty of seating along the route should we choose to sit by the water and/or stop to talk in the shade.

👫Walking shoes or comfy sandals are recommended.

👫Please bring a water bottle—we’ve got to stay hydrated!

Written by Kalli Portillo, IMH24576 – Registered Mental Health Counselor Intern, EDMRIA-Approved EMDR Therapist, Certified Prepare/Enrich Couple Counselor

To learn more, review the following open access research studies or google “blue and green spaces mental health benefits.”

Benefits of walking psychotherapy:
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8892051/

Waterscapes for mental health:
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8618438/

Importance of greenspace: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5663018/

Follow the Pattern

As a therapist or even someone on the receiving end of therapy, looking for and following patterns is a concrete way of making sense of ourselves. How we handled or reacted to situations in the past can be a great indicator of how we will approach them in the future, as well as allude to how we learned to get by before. Patterns and tendencies act as a road map of sorts that we subconsciously follow to get us to a place that is comfortable and familiar. This concept can be broken down into two parts: (1) the pattern and (2) the destination. As aforementioned, the pattern is the behaviors and thought processes we follow that are seemingly inherent to us, while the destination is the end goal or result we hope to gain or accomplish. If the pattern is the treasure map, then the destination marks the treasure. Let’s put this into context! Suppose you are in an argument with a friend. If tension tends to make you extremely uncomfortable and you want to get to a place of peace quickly (destination), you might succumb to their demands and agree to whatever you need to in order to restore said peace (pattern). Within the same situation, suppose your aim is to prove that you are right and impose that you have your way (destination), you might interrupt your friend, speak loudly over them, and be unwilling to explore their point of view (pattern). In the final example, suppose you want to maintain your friendship and find ways to reach a mutual understanding of one another (destination), you might ask questions and respond with compassion while also presenting your case (pattern). The takeaway here is that when we are aware of our patterns, through the assistance of therapy and self-reflection, we can better identify ways to change the unhealthy and strengthen the healthy tendencies. Additionally, we can wind up with more satisfying and sustainable destinations.

Written by Cindy-Joy Rosado – Graduate Student in Mental Health Counseling

Steps for Starting Therapy

Starting the therapy process can be simultaneously exciting and nerve-racking, especially if you have never done it before. There may be a lot of questions regarding what it looks like or what to expect. You might even be envisioning what we see in TV shows or movies where you have a client laying on a couch and staring at the ceiling while the therapist is sitting nearby, jotting things on a clipboard, and asking, “How does that make you feel?” In a space of many questions and uncertainties, I have found that these guidelines can help out tremendously in preparing for a therapy session and ensuring you feel comfortable and informed.

Identify the reason(s) why you want to receive therapy – This can include symptoms, life stressors, personal development, and so on.

Do research on providers – This part is twofold: (1) Find providers that are covered by your insurance or have rates that work best for you and (2) explore what the therapists of that practice specialize in; the aim is to pair your needs with someone who knows how to tend to them.

Schedule a consultation – If you have further questions you would like answered before your session (i.e. rates, scheduling, etc.), set up a phone call with the office manager to gather more information.

Test it out – Like a good pair of jeans, you want to test out your therapist to see if it is a good fit. While they are the experts of how to treat mental health issues, you are the expert on your sense of safety and comfort. You should never feel unseen, unsafe, or dismissed with your therapist.

Maintain open communication – If you have questions, concerns, thoughts, or anything at all, be sure to talk about it with your therapist and be as transparent as possible. The only way to fully assess your needs and come alongside you to lend support is to fully know what you are experiencing.

Work collaboratively – While the therapist is learning more about you, you will also be learning more about yourself. Some interventions might work and others might not, but so long as you continue collaborating with your therapist, the both of you will learn what works best and what helps you get to where you want to go.

While the logistics of each session may vary, these guidelines should become standard practice. If you are going to enter into a space where you are required to be vulnerable and open, you should ensure you take all the measures possible to be informed and feel prepared for what is to come.

Written by Cindy-Joy Rosado – Graduate Student in Mental Health Counseling

Guide Your Child Through Life

Figuring out the best way to guide your child through life can be scary. There is no perfect manual that tells parents what to do when your child throws a temper tantrum at the grocery store, when your child refuses to eat anything but cookies and chicken nuggets, when your child becomes curious about life, when your child experiences their “terrible twos or terrible teens.”
Ultimately, parenting is a ‘learn as you go” journey. There are several great books that teach parents some really useful strategies when navigating through different stages in your child’s emotional development. One thing that I suggest to parents is to assess their parenting approach. The beauty of a child’s development is that they are taking in their environment. A parent’s parenting style is a major source of influence on how a child will interact with others in their adult life. Children thrive off of high expectations while being supported and guided in a loving environment. When parents take an authoritative approach, parents recognize that their child and/or teen are still developing emotional maturity and depend on their guidance and limits to navigate through life. Through their guidance and boundaries, parents empower their children to make decisions. A because “I said so approach” is not taken but statements like “what do you think about..” “I do or do not think this is a good idea because…” ‘Which one would you choose…” “Help me understand…” “I can understand you are upset but it has to be this way because…”
Creating healthy parent-children relationships is important in creating healthy and secure adult individuals.
Written by Jessica Sagastume – Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Bilingual and Immigration Counselor

SETTING NUTRITIONAL NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS THE HEALTHY WAY

 

It’s that time of year when most of us think about setting our New Year’s resolutions. If you’re like a lot of people, you may have a goal of “losing weight” or “getting healthier.” These are obviously great goals to have, and making changes to your diet is one of the best ways to reach both.

The problem is, too many people make the wrong changes to their diet. They want to lose 30 pounds and be healthy in an unrealistic amount of time. And so once January 1st comes around, they rely on fad diets that don’t provide their bodies with proper nourishment.

This is the number one reason people fail to reach their New Year’s goals.

Here are some ways you can set your nutritional New Year’s resolutions in a healthy way.

Rely on How You Feel, Not on Technology
I see more and more people using a tracking app to track how many calories they eat in a day. But most of these programs give you a caloric reward (you can eat more) on days you exercise and a caloric punishment (you must eat less) on days you don’t.

The thing is, this kind of “logic” goes against normal intuitive eating patterns. In fact, for most people, feel less hungry on days they are most active and vice versa. My advice is to listen to your own hunger signals and make decisions off of those instead.

Avoid Restrictive Fad Diets
I can’t think of anything less healthy than a diet that does not allow you to eat macronutrients. Fat, protein and carbohydrates are all important for our health. Some people do better with more fat and fewer carbs, and some people do better with more carbs and less protein. It all really depends on your age, activity level, lifestyle, and general health. Your best bet is to work with a licensed nutritionist who can create an eating plan that is right for you.

Take Baby Steps
No one becomes overweight and unhealthy overnight. It happens over the course of weeks, months, and years. Losing weight and getting your health back also will not happen overnight, so you need to be realistic.

And because weight loss and improved health can take time, it’s important that you focus on setting small goals and taking baby steps to get there. Reaching a set of smaller goals (lose 5 pounds, walk upstairs without becoming out of breath) instead of one big one (lose 50 pounds and look awesome in a bikini) will help you stay on track and committed.

Don’t be like everyone else and set yourself up to fail in the coming year. Be smart about your weight loss and health goals by following these tips. And if you’d like to work with a nutritionist who can help you reach your goals in a healthy manner, please get in touch with me.

Written by Sherline Herard – Registered Mental Health Counselor Intern

SOURCES:

https://www.vitacost.com/blog/healthy-new-year-resolution-tips/

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